Sustainable Scotland: TV's Simon Reeve says communication is key in the fight against climate change

Author and broadcaster Simon Reeve is helping to debunk environment-related jargon after a study revealed that a quarter of people in Britain use such language, despite not knowing what it means.

Picture: Craig Hastings
Picture: Craig Hastings

Words such as “greenwashing”, “carbon neutral” and “net zero” have commonplace as society looks towards an eco-friendlier future.

But a survey of 2,000 UK adults, commissioned by not-for-profit Smart Energy GB, found that41 per cent have pretended to understand an environmental term in order to appear “with it” or avoid having to ask.

Reeve, along with the help of Paul Ekins, professor of resources and environmental policy at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, has created a short jargon-busting video explaining what some of the most commonly used terms mean.

“We can’t afford to have people who don’t understand these absolutely critical issues and terms as we are moving into a proper crisis where we have to address our climate issues,” Reeve argues.

“People need to know what the terms mean because they are about their future, our future, their children’s future and creating a more sustainable future for Scotland and Britain. ”

The research formed part of a campaign by Smart Energy GB to help the public understand the benefits of smart meters, which could make a massive difference in the collective fight against climate change.

The word that respondents found the most confusing ( at 46 per cent) is “greenwashing”, where statements – often made by large companies about their positive environmental performance – are either misleading or unsubstantiated.

This is followed by “biomass” (38 per cent) – an aggregate of organisms used for fuel – and “net zero” (32 per cent), where emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by the removal of those gases from it.

Reeve maintains: “We can’t imagine, when we are talking about environmental issues and using environment-related terminology, that we are speaking to experts.”

The adventurer, who has travelled to more than 120 countries, has been documenting his journeys in TV programmes for the BBC since 2003. A passionate campaigner for environmental issues, Reeve as seen first hand the devastation around the world caused by climate change.

He points to the deforestation of Borneo, resulting in the loss of orangutan habitats, as one example, saying: “That has a colossal impact not just on the lives of orangutans but on the health of the climate of Earth.

“People think we can keep doing things to Mother Earth and think it will be okay. Whenever you change things in a garden or an ecosystem around the planet, there is a consequence to that.”

Some 18 per cent of the survey’s respondents did not fully understand “micro-plastics”. They form when plastics break up into miniscule pieces, accumulate in the environment, and can end up in the food chain.

Reeve recalls being on a remote island in Hawaii and finding a beach covered in plastic pollution when filming his Tropic of Cancer series.

“I realised that as I dug down into the grains of sand on the beach I was finding billions of pieces of plastic and that it had become a plastic beach. That was a moment which chilled me to my core. It felt like a problem on a scale that viewers back home would struggle to comprehend. I felt scared at that moment about what we are doing to the planet.”

However, the presenter believes there is much to be hopeful about, and identifies many innovative projects and organisations driving sustainability and conservation.

“When people are educated, inspired and carefully led, they can do beautiful and wonderful things,” says Reeve. “On the one hand, I am fearful of the future because of what I have seen, but I am very hopeful about us as a species – I really believe in us – and I want us to thrive and flourish beyond this century.”

Most recently, of course, the world’s climate focus was on COP26, when the Glasgow Pact was agreed. It involves various points to tackle climate change, including reducing carbon dioxide emissions, funding to help developing countries make the switch to green energy, and ending deforestation.

After following the two-week UN summit, Reeve declares: “I felt quite relieved and affected by how many people – my family, friends,viewers – who have said to me ‘we have never had this level of awareness about environmental issues’, and it really feels like we have turned a corner.”

And now everyone in the UK can do their bit to help fight the global emergency and avoid catastrophic climate change.

Installing a free smart meter in domestic households can aid the development of a smart energy system that will help society to move towards a greener future.

Smart Meters offer automatic readings and near-real time energy use information for households.

Ultimately, they will help Britain to achieve net-zero by allowing for better management of energy demand and supply.

Reeve adds: “Our energy system can’t cope with our peaks and demands and so, as we digitise our system, that will help us incorporate renewable energy.

“It will help us to wean off fossil fuels and there will be less energy waste. That is going to be really important for us as we move into the future.

“Our use of electricity is expected to double by 2050 because there is an increased demand for electric cars, so we really need to have a smart energy system.

“We really need people to take up the offer of a smart meter to help them and the environment in the future.”

He concludes: “Greening our energy system is one of the most important things we have to do to journey towards carbon neutral.”

Requesting a smart meter installation is a simple process and can be done via the government-backed Smart Energy GB website, where the jargon-busting video can also be viewed, at www.smartenergygb.org.